A Special Message from the Director|
Friday afternoon, the Department of Energy announced its extension and
competition decisions for the contracts to operate ten of its national
laboratories. The press release says about Fermilab: "The Department
will compete the management contract for this facility to accommodate
an award coincident with the completion of the current contract on
December 31, 2006."
Since this is a decision that is of interest to everyone who works at Fermilab,
I want to take the opportunity to answer some of the
questions that I know you may have.
What is the management contract for Fermilab? Fermilab is a government-owned,
contractor-operated (GOCO) national laboratory. The federal government owns
the laboratory assets, and in our case the land, but negotiates with another
organization the management and operation (M&O) contract for the laboratory.
For Fermilab, the M&O contractor is Universities Research Association, while
other laboratories are managed by universities, for profit corporations,
or other non-
What does it mean to "compete the contract"? Every five years the DOE either
negotiates an extension of the Fermilab contract or decides to award it
through a competitive bidding process. The Fermilab contract has always
been extended, as is the case for many other national laboratories. The press
release announces competition dates for eight laboratories. Certain other
laboratories went through a competitive bidding
process in recent years.
Was this announcement a surprise? Not in light of statements by public
officials and legislative language in recent years, although the timing
of such an announcement was not known. It does represent a change of
policy, but the new policy has been developing for some time. Secretary
Abraham said in the press release that, "a competitive environment is
generally desirable for the effective and efficient operation of our labs."
He was acting on the recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Commission on the
of Competitive Procedures for DOE laboratories. In addition,
Congress has encouraged competition with language in the Energy
and Water Development and Appropriations Act of 2004 directed the Department
to use competitive bidding for five laboratory contracts up for renewal in
2004 and 2005.
Did the decision to compete the URA contract represent a judgment about
Fermilab? No. The DOE has made it clear in public and private statements
that the recent set of decisions is based on applying a general policy and
does not reflect a specific concern about Fermilab or the other laboratories
What would it mean to the people who work here if the management contract
changed? Based on experience at other laboratories,
personnel changes in connection with contract competition were confined
to the upper management of the laboratory. Of course,
the scientific direction of
every laboratory evolves with time, based on changes in science and in
government priorities. But there were no sharp programmatic
at the laboratories that have recently changed contractors. Meanwhile,
Fred Bernthal has asked me to convey to you that this decision by DOE
does not, of course, affect
URA's search for a new director
about to begin
under the chairmanship of Dr. Neal Lane.
The success of Fermilab has been based on the quality of the science done
here and on the ability of the laboratory to build and operate large
facilities that make it possible to do forefront particle physics.
This will continue to be true in the future.